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Archive for Sunday, July 25, 2004

Conserving soil moisture critical to garden

July 25, 2004

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Gardeners normally associate cabbage, carrots and broccoli with the spring garden.

However, these and other vegetables will grow quite well in the fall. If the recent reprieve from the dog days of summer have revived your gardening spirit, try planting a fall vegetable garden this month.

For the next few weeks, vegetables such as beans, beets, carrots, and potatoes can be seeded. Likewise, transplants of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower will grow nicely. And in a few weeks, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips can be planted for a bountiful late-season harvest.

Fall has long been my preferred season for vegetable gardening. Seeds germinate and grow more quickly than in spring. In fact, you can usually have crops growing in just a few days. Transplants will grow new roots and begin shoot growth almost the next day after planting. Insects, diseases, and weeds are much less severe than early in the season. Cool-air temperatures mixed with warm-soil temperatures mean crops mature rapidly and have better flavor.

Planning and planting the garden are simple. Use varieties that have proven to do well in our area. Do not work the ground extensively or add large amounts of organic material. With the potential for heat and dryness, you want to conserve as much soil moisture as possible. To plant the crops, simply scratch the soil surface enough to create a good soil bed. Save your compost for late fall after everything has been harvested. If weeds or other plant debris is left over from a previous crop, mow it off with a lawn mower and till it under lightly. Allow three to five days for the mater to dry and then plant away.

The only major downfall to fall gardening is keeping the garden watered. However, with the timely rains this year, this may not be a problem. Nevertheless, to give the plants a good start, plant the seeds about twice as deep as you would for a spring garden. Not only is there more soil moisture down there, but the soil is also a bit cooler so the seeds do not dry out as quickly. Likewise, use a two- to three-inch layer of mulch between the rows and around emerging plants. The mulch will help cool the soil and conserve the valuable soil moisture.

As the garden grows, it will not require any special cultural techniques. A few weeds may sprout requiring hand cultivation. Insect and disease pests may appear requiring specific control measures, but these situations are ones that develop routinely in any gardening system. So other leisure activities, plant a few vegetables in the garden. Then sit back, relax and enjoy the fresh fruits of your labor.

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